Dakota Walker woke up Wednesday morning and turned to YouTube to pull up video clips of previous presidential debates.
The performance Tuesday night by President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden felt like an episode of “Tom and Jerry,” Walker said, and he wanted to make sure he wasn’t overreacting.
“I have never seen a debate before that was that unprofessional,” the 34-year-old Mansfield resident said.
His search Wednesday morning only proved him right.
Local viewers said they were largely unimpressed by the first debate in the 2020 presidential election, frustrated by a back-and-forth that included constant interruptions and name-calling from both candidates.
Kenneth Porter, 75, from Attleboro said his wife turned to him in the middle of the debate in disbelief. They both called it a “hot mess.”
“I don’t think it did either one of the candidates any good,” Porter said. “I can’t imagine anyone thought that was a productive debate.”
He placed some of that blame on moderator Chris Wallace, saying he lost control of the candidates early on and should have threatened to end the debate or turn off a candidate’s microphone if the interruptions continued.
Porter, who voted for Trump in 2016 and is leaning his way again this year, said even he thought the president “got carried away” in the bickering and should have focused more on what he has already accomplished.
Trump interrupted or heckled Biden nearly every time the Democratic candidate spoke, prompting several reminders of debate decorum from Wallace.
“He says off-the-wall, goofy things but I think his actions are more important,” Porter said.
He wanted Trump to focus more on what he’s done for foreign relations and trade over the last four years and lay out his plan to bring more manufacturing back to the United States.
“There’s a lot of good he’s done, but that performance last night was not good for either one of them,” Porter said. “I hope the next one is completely different. I hope they focus on the issues and what their real plans will be.”
Walker said he was left with little hope that either candidate will move the country forward.
“The president and a candidate can’t even take five minutes to allow the other one to talk,” he said. “That was an altercation. That was no type of debate at all.”
Asked to lay out their plans for the presidency, both candidates seemed to instead point the finger back and forth at one another, Walker said.
“It seemed like it was like, ‘It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, what is he doing?’ That was a debate? Over what?” he said. “Not being a Democrat or a Republican, but this is about our country as a whole. That’s what’s at the table for us from both sides. It’s scary.”
A local leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, Walker said he hoped to see more done to acknowledge the conversation around systemic racism and policing that erupted this summer, especially after last week’s decision by a grand jury not to charge the police officer who fatally shot Breonna Taylor in Kentucky this spring.
The moderator did ask a series of questions around race and protests this summer, but Walker said they felt like “roundabout questions” that didn’t solicit meaningful answers from either candidate.
He tuned in to Tuesday’s debate to ensure he knew exactly what was said, but even though he wasn’t surprised by the outcome, he was disappointed.
“Just because I didn’t expect (anything different), doesn’t mean I have to accept it,” he said. “This format (of debate), you’ve seen it. You know it. You know what you’re supposed to do. The nation shouldn’t accept that either way.”
Ken Watson of Foxboro said part of that may have been strategic.
“I saw Trump as sort of aggressive, trying to distract Biden,” the 69-year-old Democrat said. “I think it was his strategy to show (Biden’s) an old man or throw him off his balance, show he was foolish.
“I think it backfired so Donald Trump looked like a bully. But Trump did it very intently — and maybe to some people he looked strong while doing it — but nonetheless what he was doing was bullish.”
Watson said he faithfully watches the debates to catch any surprises and make sure his chosen candidate is holding up. The debates have never changed his pick, but he turns to them to feel reassured.
Though he said Tuesday wasn’t productive, he felt like Biden still held his own.
“He didn’t make any surprising mistakes,” he said. “I don’t think Biden lost any support from it.”
Lorraine Nye agreed with criticism against Wallace and said she wished the moderator pushed back on questions that went unanswered.
She pointed to a question to Biden on whether he would support filling the Supreme Court seat left vacant by Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the election. Nye said he skirted the question, and Wallace let him get away with it.
“What have we got to vote for him on?” the Rehoboth resident said. “He claimed he was the leader of the Democratic party. If he’s the leader, he should have a position on that. People want to know.”
Nye, a Trump supporter, said neither candidate did a good job laying out their plans Tuesday — but already knowing what Trump stands for from his last four years in office, she wasn’t so bothered by his lack of policy on the debate stage.
Instead, she wanted to see Biden answer more for criticisms she said he kept writing off as “debunked.”
Still, she said, the fighting seemed to get in the way of any of that.
“It was disrespectful and upsetting,” she said.
“Both of these candidates are supposed to lead the No. 1 powerful country, and both of them get up there and act like idiots. For Biden to tell the president of the United States to shut up — who does he think he is?”
I think they were both on the arrogant side.”